I live in an unincorporated community in the foothills of Southern California. My street ends a third of a mile from home, but a dirt road continues on, passing into national forest land as it winds its way for ten miles through rugged foothills and steep canyons. The native flora in this area is a complex, pungent smelling, densely growing, evergreen shrub community called collectively “chaparral.” It is the habitat of mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, fox, deer, raccoons, opossums, weasels, rattlesnakes, wild turkeys, hawks, and dozens of other varieties of birds, mammals, and reptiles.
Ten years ago to this very day (October 23, 2007) an out-of-control wildfire raged through my local wilderness. (This is not the same fire mentioned in part thirteen). Fueled by seventy-plus mph gusts of Santa Ana winds, the inferno burned thousands of acres and destroyed hundreds of structures, including fifty of my neighbors’ homes. It burned to within twenty feet of my own house.
A few weeks after the fire was extinguished, I rode my mountain bike for several miles along the dirt road. Not a single piece of greenery survived; no wildlife was visible. Only charcoal skeletons of chaparral and, in the canyon bottoms, scorched live oaks and sycamores were all that remained of the pristine “elfin forest.”
Despite of the devastation, however, within weeks signs of healing were apparent. Sucker roots sent forth green shoots at the base of blackened chaparral, and grasses emerged to cover much of the scorched earth. By the following spring, wildflowers and saplings flourished, providing food for returning populations of wildlife. Today, ten years later, one would have to look closely over much of the land to see the scares of the great conflagration. God brought healing to the scorched and wounded earth.
This is a picture of the healing and restoration God offers those who call upon His name in faith. Perhaps not the physical healing we observe in nature—although sometimes He chooses to do even that—but most assuredly emotional and spiritual healing.
Just as a destructive forest fire, hurricane, or earthquake can ravage nature, so do unexpected storms of grief, hurt, and despair ravage human lives, leaving in their wake profound emotional and spiritual pain, suffering, and loss. Yet just as God, in His profound goodness, heals the tragic effects of seemingly ruined nature, so too He can lovingly heal the wounds of human suffering. And just as some of the wildflowers that emerged following the firestorm could only germinate after the fire’s destructive power provided more fertile ground, so too the heart wrenching emotional and spiritual pain that human sometimes suffer can be a catalysis for spiritual transformation and healing.
The Psalmist assures us that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (147:3). And Jesus offers longed for comfort when He promises: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you . . . and you will find rest for your souls” (Matt. 11: 28-29). My prayer and hope is that readers experiencing severe grief and loss—as all of us do at times—will seek the healing comfort God offers: the only living God who is “not far from each one of us” (Acts. 17: 27). ©